Release Day Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson, Must Read Nigerian Cyberpunk

Brooke Banks | 6:48 AM | | | | | | | | |

Genre: Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk
Age: Adult
Format: Ebook, 364pgs.
Source: ARC for review
Rating: 5 Stars
Recommendable? Hell yeah
CW: Violence, Homophobia,
Between meeting a boy who bursts into flames, alien floaters that want to devour him, and a butterfly woman who he has sex with when he enters the xenosphere, Kaaro’s life is far from the simple one he wants. But he left simple behind a long time ago when he was caught stealing and nearly killed by an angry mob. Now he works for a government agency called Section 45, and they want him to find a woman known as Bicycle Girl. And that’s just the beginning.

An alien entity lives beneath the ground, forming a biodome around which the city of Rosewater thrives. The citizens of Rosewater are enamored by the dome, hoping for a chance to meet the beings within or possibly be invited to come in themselves. But Kaaro isn’t so enamored. He was in the biodome at one point and decided to leave it behind. When something begins killing off other sensitives like himself, Kaaro defies Section 45 to search for an answer, facing his past and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.

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First sentence:

I ’m at the Integrity Bank job for forty minutes before the anxieties kick in.

Rosewater follows Kaaro as he investigates why sensitives, people with paranormal abilities, are dying now with intermissions from his past. He knows far more than most people, but he doesn’t spill his secrets quickly. We must move along and figure it out with him as he discovers he understood and grapples with the naked truth.

Kaaro is an odd duck. We meet him working in a bank protecting it with his abilities against attacks. He’s chilling with his co-worker Bola, who insists on setting him up on a date. Which leads to the first quote I love, about match making.

It’s immediately engaging with all the world building and tidbits Kaaro drops carefully placed to keep you moving and guessing. He’s the guide through Rosewater, a lost local while we’re the intruders upon the future. This isn’t a book where you become the protagonist and feel them like a second skin. Here, it’s immersive because the familiar and the different are balanced perfectly with a plot that alternates between “WTF?” and “OMFG”in the best way.

Kaaro’s voice is hard to describe. The descriptions are sparse and Spartan, the emotions come through his dialogue but he shuts down feeling them quickly. At least, at his current age. There’s a robotic quality to it, but there’s still a personality, like he’s detached for a reason.

And a reason for everything. This is the kind of book you’ll want to re-read as you can’t catch it all the first time. And even then, there’s plenty left to tell in another story.

Kaaro has his flaws, including some relating to women, but he grew from his teenage years and continues the journey in this tale. The cast surrounding him and the most influential players are all women. They’re varied, real, and dynamic. They aren’t held back for being women and sexism seems absent from Nigeria at this time yet it’s homophobic legacy is still in effect.

I like how it’s addressed and not swept under the rug at least but hate that it continues and wish it didn’t. Kaaro has the typical cultural masculinity -- the type of person that has gay friends but still feels uncomfortable. He accepts the way it is and doesn’t challenge the status quo. While the two most notable men besides Kaaro are gay, it’s hardly QUILTBAG friendly.

After finishing Rosewater, I’m extremely appreciative of how there’s no inconsistencies and the skill involved to pull this all off. Tade Thompson is an author to follow and watch. At the very least, every science fiction fan should read Rosewater, especially if you’re a fan of the old school. Everyone else looking for something wholly different and captivating that will not be forgotten should read it as well.

I’d love to gush, but talking about damn near anything in Rosewater beyond basics but that would alter the journey and it’s one hell of a journey. Kaaro’s story comes to a close, but other characters have narratives to tell that’d I love to see if possible. The ending is left open like a barn door. The horses are free and all you can do is still there contemplate what it all means.

Rosewater has all the classic elements of science fiction and I would class it as cyberpunk given its…everything. Except Kaaro is not a revolutionary punk nor a hero. But it deconstructs the typical white science fiction and is bitingly subversive. It’s not like marching in the streets as a metal head, but more disrupting it as a cog in the wheel.

It’s stunning. Not a happy ending, but there’s possibility. It truly makes you think about what it means to human and our humanity, both individual and collective. Okay, that cliché gets said A LOT but I sincerely, utterly mean it for Rosewater. I am immensely grateful I was offered to review this book. Easily one of the best damn things I’ve read all year.

**I received an ARC copy for review, the following quotes are subject to change.**

I let go of the tenuous control I had and scream into the void. Without lungs you can scream forever, and I do.

No good thing renders its possessor happy, unless his mind is reconciled to the possibility of loss.

There is choice, there is action, and any other narrative perpetuates a myth that someone else out there will fix our problems with a magic sword and a blessing from the gods.

No, Kaaro. Aminat has her own story; she is not a supporting character of yours.’

In her mind I read that any community can be assessed by the way it treats women. Not something I have thought of before.

Actually, none of my ideas are smart,’ I say. ‘At least I’m consistent.’

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